The Advantage of Ambivalence (and the Downside of Certainty)

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Certainty can look good in the face of not having it. When you feel vulnerable, are in emotional pain, and yearn for clarity, it’s easy to imagine that someone who is expressing certainty is having the experience you want. This is called "projection." We project on to someone what we want and believe is happening inside of them when, really, we don’t actually know what they're experiencing at all. It’s very unlikely that they’re experiencing what you want, and we can only know what we want and what we are feeling.
 
You really can’t know what another person is experiencing unless you ask them. But your imagination can run wild thinking that you do know, and then the icing on the cake is that you use your imagination—whatever you projected—to affirm something about yourself that isn’t true. Your projections might convince you that something is wrong with you.
 
How can it be that so many people just know what they want when it comes to deciding about children and parenthood? Well, maybe they don’t know as much as it appears. When a friend presents certainty to you—when they present that they know they want to live a childfree life or raise children or become a parent—it can feel like they have something you don’t have. And you want what they have— immediately. Then you might feel that something’s wrong with you or you’re not wired correctly. So of course you covet the certainty your friend has.

But hold your horses—you might not want what they have, or shall we say, what you perceive they have.

We’ll come back in a moment to why you probably don’t want what you think they have. But first let’s look at what you do have. You have questions without answers. You have a drive or maybe even an urgency to know the answers to your questions. You feel a deep desire to know your truth around this issue. You’re motivated. You’re hungry. You have an appetite for the truth. You’ve crossed a line where you can’t go back to “I’ll do whatever someone else wants me to do.” You won’t settle for unexplored beliefs you might have had. You must know your truth, whatever it is. This is all good to have.
 
In fact, most women I’ve talked with have said knowing their truth about which path to take was more important than the path itself. Ultimately, they don’t really care which path they choose; they just want it to be based on their truth and not someone else’s. No tag-along Trudy here.
 
Even if you feel right now that you want to want to be a mom or you want to want to live a childfree life, what you really want (according to what many women have said) is to know what’s true for you so you can move forward in your life confidently. After that, you can face anything. And your determination or desire to know your truth means that you need to start exploring why you don’t know what you don’t know. You’re ready to turn over every stone to find answers. You’re ready to do the hard work of self-exploration. Before you read on, take a moment to acknowledge your courage—being undecided is a good thing, because self-exploration leads to more self-knowledge, which can only translate into more fulfillment, whatever your choice.
 
Ok, now back to why you might not want what others have or imagine they have.

You hear certainty when you hear your friends or other people declare one of these statements:

  • “I’ve always known I wanted children.”
  • “I’ve always known I don’t want kids.”
  • “I’ve always known I wanted to be a mother.”
  • “I’ve never questioned being a mother.”
  • “Being a parent isn’t anything I’ve ever wanted.”
  • “It never occurred to me to have a life without children.”
  • “When we got married we knew we’d have children. It was never a question.”
  • “When we got married we knew we wanted a childfree life. It was never a question.”

But you don’t know what those statements mean to them or how they feel about it. You might pick up on a sense of peace of mind that their certainty (real or perceived) allows them. Maybe that’s what’s appealing. You might actually want their peace of mind or their calm state more than you want their known declaration. You don’t know if their certainty comes from a place of self-exploration or a place of reactivity or a place of assumptions yet to be explored. To be fair, a caveat: I’m talking about the masses of people who don’t explore why they want to become parents or why they don’t. They say they know, but if you ask them about it they often can’t talk about what they said in any kind of detail. They probably don’t know why they want what they say they feel certain about—they have unexplored certainty.
 
That’s why you don’t want what they have—because unexplored certainty is likely to be temporary. Without strong understanding about where the certainty comes from and why it’s held, disappointment, grief, regret, may follow down the road, along with and confusion about why they made their choice.
 
Where might unexplored certainty come from? Starting from a very young age we make decisions based on our experiences, and when those decisions don’t get challenged we internalize them as if they’re true. We made these decisions and set our beliefs at a young age for what was a good reason at the time, so they rarely do get questioned later.
 
For example, if you’re raised in a home where you’re exposed to the idea that all little girls grow up to be mommies and no information about other paths is introduced, it’s easy to internalize that message—that all girls will be mommies—as a truth. Even though you do have a choice about it, the idea that there’s a choice may never enter your mind. The inadvertent message then becomes the norm. No explanations are given—it’s just the way it is, and it never gets questioned. You go on with your life assuming that you’ll be a mom. Then one day, with no questions asked, you do become a mom. When you enter parenthood like this you’re more likely than someone who has explored the issue to experience issues and to find yourself asking, why did I become a mom?
 
Imagine what might happen if a pause button had been pushed and we were all asked, “Do you really want to live a childfree life, become a mother, a parent or a step-parent?” And, “Why do you want that?”
 
There is no risk in putting aside a truth, in examining it, because at the end of the day—after you’ve explored every aspect or angle of your decision—your truth just might get stronger inside you. If it still feels right, you’ll likely have added new information that solidifies your truth. Or you might discover that your decision was based on information that was true at one time but is no longer true, or that once was relevant but is no longer relevant. If it’s really your truth, then it won’t change. And if it’s true but it changes, you’ll likely have a deeper understanding why you want what you want.
 
I once worked with a man who wanted to do the Fatherhood Clarity Course™ because his wife had completed the one-on-one Motherhood Clarity Course ™ and he felt that she did her due diligence so he wanted to do his as well. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to become a mother, while he was quite clear he wanted to become a father, and he was a bit more urgent about it than his wife. Although he “knew” he wanted to be a father, he was willing to put his certainty aside while he went through the program. He trusted that there wasn’t a risk in putting aside his truth. When he completed the program, he still wanted to be a father, but what surprised him was that the reason he wanted to be a father had changed and he was no longer urgent about it.
 
Questioning certainty is about knowing yourself. Hearing unexamined certainty from yourself or another, it’s easy not to ask questions. But what if no matter how certain a person felt they questioned their certainty—not to defend their position or because they owe anyone an explanation, but rather so they could understand where the certainty came from and whether it was, in fact, their truth.
 
It takes courage to pause and look underneath an unexamined certainty. We do that at the risk of discovering that maybe we’re not so certain. But the benefit of examining our certainty is that we can know that the path we are on—the choice we’ve made—is based not on some projected idea but rather on our own truth.

© 2017 Ann Davidman